We all know the saying: dog is a man’s best friend. Often, dogs are excellent companions for people of all walks of life, providing entertainment, camaraderie, and loyalty. But sometimes we forget that dogs are still animals that can have violent tendencies and that even the most lovable pet can cause injury.
The most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are nearly 4.5 million dog bite victims in the United States every single year. Almost one out of every five of those victims requires medical attention, which means that 885,000 people per year need medical treatment because they were bitten by a dog. And the data shows that many of those attacks are significant: in 2006 alone, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery due to being bitten by a dog. These attacks result in an estimated $1 billion cost per year, with nearly $300 million paid by homeowners insurance.
Who is particularly at risk for being attacked by a dog? Children between the ages of 5-9 are among the most common victims of a dog attack, and children in general are more likely to receive medical treatment as a result of an attack. Among adults, men are more likely than women to be attacked by a dog. And of course, individuals who interact more with dogs are more likely to be bitten, which means that having a dog in the home increases the likelihood of an attack.
Of course, if you are a dog owner, you should take that responsibility seriously. At the end of the day, if your dog attacks someone, you will be liable for that attack—sometimes even if you didn’t know that your dog had aggressive tendencies.
Fortunately for dog owners and enthusiasts, there are a number of preventative measures that can be taken to protect individuals from dog attacks. First, there are a number of things to consider before bringing a dog into your household. It is advisable to speak with a professional to determine which breeds of dogs would be most appropriate for your family. In addition, before bringing home any dog, you should spend time with it to learn its behavior and in particular if it has a history of aggression.
Once you make the decision to bring a pet into your home, spaying and neutering the dog can reduce aggressive tendencies. Proper training and socialization of your new dog is also important: you should play aggressively with your dog, and you should teach the dog submissive behaviors, such as giving up food without growling or rolling over to expose the abdomen.
If you have children in your home or expect children to be around your dog, there are some additional precautions. For example, if your child seems afraid of dogs, it is advisable to not bring a dog home until they overcome that fear. Children—particularly young children—should never be left with a dog unsupervised. And of course, you can teach your children some basic safety tips such as: not to approach unfamiliar dogs; not to run from or scream at a dog; not to disturb dogs that are sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies; and to allow a dog to “meet” you by sniffing and seeing you before petting the dog.
By being a responsible dog owner and knowing–and respecting–some of your pet’s natural tendencies, you can help make sure that having a dog remains fun and rewarding.